“Good luck out there, Josh,” Kevin says, patting me on the back. “Visit the city sometime, kay?”
I nod. “Thanks. I’ll try.” I push myself into the moving truck. The driver starts the car. About a month ago, my parents told me that we would be moving to the countryside, hoping to help me move on with life. Of course, I refused, but later I noticed how hard this was for them as well. So I agreed. That’s life after all. It goes on, forgetting the past.
Life goes on, huh?
Why hasn’t mine?
“Excited to be the big city boy at your new school?” the driver suddenly says.
I look over at him. I want to say no, but for my parents, I must be optimistic about this.
“Totally,” I say with an excited tone. “Being in a new environment sounds awesome.”
“Quite enthusiastic, huh? My daughter wasn’t nearly as excited as you back when we moved from the city,” the driver laughs. “She attends the same school as you, so try to make friends with her! She’s very open to newcomers.”
Mentally, I groan. I am not going there to make friends. I just want to get high school over with. Just one-and-a-half more years and I can go to college.
“Wow, I’ll see if I can find her,” I say. “How did you know what school I was going to?”
“The town is so small,” he says. “There’s only one school there.”
Ah, that’s right. I stare out the window. The ocean is getting farther and farther away. I wonder how I am going to clear my thoughts now.
Well, here’s to moving into the middle of nowhere.
It has been a week since my parents and I settled down in the countryside. There are no tall buildings and there is no ocean to look at. It is so small that it feels like I am suffocating. And every trace of Wendy is gone, except for a small photo I keep in a wooden frame.
I lay on my bed, staring at the photo. It is almost time for me to attend my new school, but I do not want to go. I hate change. I do not want to meet new people. I just want to go back to the city. I just want to be with my old friends. I just want to see Wendy again.
I sigh as I grab my backpack. It’s an easy trip to my new school. I don’t even have to take the train. It is a small town, almost impossible to get lost here. The school is also very small, completely different from the one back in the city.
I walk to my first class. It seems like everyone takes the same subjects here. I find an empty seat next to the windows and sit. Next to me is a girl with blonde hair. She seems to be fretting about something.
“Don’t worry about it, Emma,” a girl next to her says. “I’m sure your grade isn’t that bad.”
“Ugh,” the blonde says, laying on her desk. She begins to cry. “I did so horrible on yesterday’s test though.”
I roll my eyes. Great, I am sitting next to a crybaby. I had no idea they still existed in junior year.
I watch her wipe her tears. Then suddenly, she turns to me. “Oh,” she says. “I’ve never seen you before. Are you the transfer student?”
I turn and face the window, ignoring her. I do not want to associate with people like her. Crybabies and all. They are annoying and a waste of my time to deal with.
“Just ignore him, Emma,” her friend says. “He’s just one of those stuck-up people.”
Stuck-up? Maybe that was the right word to describe me. I don’t want to make friends in this school. I just want to go back home. I’m done with the countryside. There is absolutely nothing to do.
I take out my phone, planning to send a text to Kevin.
Great. Just great.
“Okay,” I hear a loud voice say. “We’re starting class!”
I look up. It is the teacher. I put away my phone. It is the first day. I need to make a good first impression.
“We have a new classmate with us today,” the teacher says. “Why don’t you come up and introduce yourself?”
I stand up from my seat, walk to the front and face the class. It is quite small, maybe about fifteen to twenty students.
“I’m Joshua. You can call me Josh,” I say with a smile. “I’m from the city, about a few hours away by car.”
“The city, huh?” the teacher says. “It must be boring here in the countryside compared to there.”
Yes. It is boring. I want to leave. How is there no service? How am I supposed to call someone? This is absolutely ridiculous. Why am I here anyway? How is this going to help me move on with life? I belong in the city! Not some random town in the middle of nowhere. And it’s so hot here. I feel like my skin is constantly being burned off.
“Oh no,” I say. “I love this town. I don’t see this much nature back in the city and it is quite relaxing.”
Yeah right, relaxing. This is torture. The Wi-Fi here is so slow. And data doesn’t even work. How do people live here?
“Wow, I’m happy that you’re enjoying your time here,” the teacher says. He allows me to go back to my seat. I seem to give the impression that I am a friendly person. Well, that’s a start. At least my parents wouldn’t have to worry. If I had said my true thoughts, there is no doubt that my parents would be called.
Classes pass slowly. During lunch, I make friends easily. I answer their questions about the city. People are simple-minded and quick to trust me. All I have to do is smile, laugh, and be positive. As long as I do all three of these things, I am seen as a good person.
Classes come back and after three more hours, school finally ends. I am about to walk back home when I hear someone’s footsteps running after me.
“Joshua!” I hear the person yell.
I turn around, spotting a girl with blonde hair running after me. Ah, it is that crybaby who sits next to me. I groan. I really do not want to deal with her right now.
“Hey,” she says. “You seem to be heading in the same direction as me! Want to go together?”
I can lie and act friendly around others, but I have a hard time handling people like her. I really despise people who always cry. They remind me of my past. I was really messed up back then.
“No,” I say. “I’d rather not.”
“Why not?” she asks. Tears are forming underneath her eyes. “Did I do something wrong?”
I continue to walk, ignoring her. But she keeps on following me. “Hey!” I say angrily. “Don’t you have something better to do than follow me around?”
“I just want to be friends,” she says. “Also, I am not following you. This is the way to my house too.”
Her brows create a crease in the middle of her forehead. She is angry. I feel a lump in my throat. Maybe I was a bit too mean earlier. It doesn’t hurt to be nicer.
After all, that was how Wendy passed away.
My eyes widen. No. I cannot think about her. This girl is nothing like Wendy. Don’t think that way. Forget about it. Forget about it. Just forget about it.
I get to the entrance of my house and walk in.
“Bye!” the girl says, waving at me. It seems like her house is further that way.
I am so horrible to her, but why is she still acknowledging me? How annoying. I turn around and slam the door shut. I hate girls like her.
Just like Wendy.
“I’m heading out,” I tell my parents before I leave the house.
I take a walk. I guess the only thing that I found myself enjoying here was the night sky. In the city, there are too many lights to see the stars. But here, I can see so many. It is almost as if the dark sky has been erased, covered by a blanket of white light. Beautiful.
“It’s you,” I hear a voice say.
I look back in front of me. It is that crybaby girl from earlier.
“What are you doing out here so late?” she asks.
“I could say the same for you,” I reply with an irked tone.
She laughs. “True, true. I just needed to clear my head.”
Oh, she seems to be a bit similar to me. “Same for me actually,” I say. “This town is too suffocating.”
I notice that she is staring at me. I raise an eyebrow, perplexed as to why. Did I say something weird?
“You’re so honest in front of me,” she says. “You should just be like this all the time.”
“Huh?” I say. “What do you mean?”
The girl laughs. She puts her hands in the air, moving two fingers in each hand up and down. “I love this town. I don’t see this much nature back in the city and it is quite relaxing,” she says, making her voice sound deep.
Hold on, those were the same words I said to the class. I glare at her. She is taunting me.
“I’m just saying,” she says, giggling. “You don’t have to lie. I am from the city too. This town takes a while to get used to. Like having no service all the time.”
Ah, I really can’t lie to these types of people.
“Come with me,” she says. She grabs my wrist tightly and begins to drag me. “I’ll show you something cool about this town.”
“Hold on,” I say, refusing to move my feet. “I don’t even remember your name. How am I supposed to just blindly follow you around?”
“I’m Emma,” she says. “Come with me!”
She begins to sprint. She is actually very fast and a bit hard to run along with, but somehow, I manage to follow her footsteps. I pant, grabbing my knees. I try keep my breath but I am so tired.
“You … too fast,” I say between pants.
“Well, I am on the track team,” Emma laughs. “Anyway, look up.”
With the rest of my strength, I stand back up. “What is it?” My eyes widen when I realize that we are standing before a vast lake. The water is so clear that I can see the moon and my reflection. We seem to be standing on a tiny port, extending a bit toward the lake. Emma sits on the edge, swinging her legs.
“It’s cool, right?” she says, beaming with a grin.
“It’s nothing like the ocean though,” I say.
“Well, this and that are different,” Emma protests. “Ocean moves, but the lake is still. They are both nice in their own way.”
I bend down and dip my fingers into the water. It is freezing, but somewhat soothing. I swirl my hand around. Somehow, I find myself relating to the lake. Unlike the ocean, the lake is frozen in time. It can’t move, just like me. I am stuck in the past, constantly thinking of what I did to Wendy. Maybe if I were just kinder. Maybe if I just changed my ways. Maybe if I didn’t give her that attitude, she would have lived. Maybe if I were just…
Suddenly, I hear a sniff from Emma. I look down and see that she is crying again. What happened now? Maybe she hit herself on the rocks. She is probably the type that cries about every little thing. Without thinking, I touch her arm, making sure she is okay.
“Sorry,” she says, wiping her tears with a finger. “You were just putting up such a sad-looking face, so the tears just came.”
Huh? Me? I sit down next to Emma. She is wailing. How could she just cry like this from seeing my face? Somehow, she reminds me of … nevermind. I try to clear that thought out of my head. I wipe one of her tears off her cheek with my finger. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I won’t make that face anymore.”
“No,” she says. “It’s not like that!” She cries harder. “It’s just that you looked like you wanted to cry. And I thought about how much it must hurt to keep those thoughts to yourself. So these tears just came.”
My eyes widen. I did? Me? I feel myself shake in shock. How did she notice? Not even Kevin or my parents could see through me, yet this girl saw in one look. Perhaps it is because her personality reminds me so much of Wendy.
“I can’t cry,” I tell her. “I don’t know how.”
Emma stares as if I were the most insane person in the world. Now that I think about it, Kevin also gave me that look when I said the same thing. “In that case,” she says. “I’ll cry for you.”
“Huh?” I say, surprised.
“If you have an inability to cry, then I’ll cry for you,” Emma says. “I don’t want to see you hold your feelings in any longer. It annoys me. I hate it when people do that. Who does it help anyway? It doesn’t help anyone to hold it in. You’re only hurting yourself!”
I have never heard anyone say something like that to me. I want to thank her, but I am too shocked. My chest feels heavy and there is a lump in my throat. I have never felt like this before. “D-Don’t talk like you know me!” I shout abruptly. “You don’t understand anything!”
“I might not, but even someone like me can clearly see that you’re hurt!” she exclaims. Tears are pouring out of her eyes even faster. “So just stop it!”
“Then maybe if you would stop acting so much like Wendy, I wouldn’t be so hurt!” I scream back without thinking.
Her eyes widen. Immediately, I cover my mouth. What was I saying? How could I just say that to her without thought? When have I become so childlike? That wasn’t what I was thinking at all. “S-Sorry,” I say. “Forget I said anything.”
“Who is Wendy?” she asks.
“No one you need to concern yourself with,” I say, staring at the ground.
“Did she hurt you?” she says, grabbing my arm. “What did she do to you? I’ll make her pay you back!”
“She died!” I say loudly. “Get it? Now leave me alone!”
Emma stops crying. She just stares at me, shocked. I know that look. It is the pitiful look. It is the face people give me whenever they hear about Wendy. I acted too rashly to her. I was too cruel. She didn’t do anything. It wasn’t her fault.
She lets go of my arm and runs off. Where is she going?
This was how Wendy passed away.
No, it isn’t. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Just leave. It’s not like I wanted to be friends with her anyway. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care about her.
But my instincts take over and I run after her. I can’t leave her alone.
Emma is fast. No wonder she is on the track team. I see her running across the street. My eyes widen. The lights are red. What is she thinking? I hear a car honk loudly. I look to the right. Isn’t that car way beyond the speed limit? My heart pounds in fear. No. No. This situation is too familiar to me.
This will be Wendy all over again.
I run down the street and grab Emma’s arm, pulling her off the street. We both fall backwards, slamming into the sidewalk. I feel like everything is happening too fast. The car speeds past us. The wind from it blows into my ears, so hard that I feel like it is ripping my skin off. I breathe heavily. Just in time. “You,” I say. I grab her shoulders. “You idiot! Look at the light! It’s red!”
“Sorry,” she says, wiping a tear. “I-I wasn’t looking.”
She looks shaken from what just happened. Maybe I went too far when I called her an idiot.
“Sorry,” I say. “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have been so mean to you.”
“No,” she says. “I’m sorry for being nosy. It’s none of my business. I shouldn’t have…” She looks up at me with wide eyes. “You… you’re crying.”
I freeze. I let go of her shoulders and touch the bottom of my eye. I feel something warm and wet. Am I crying? Why? How? Since when? Why is it that everything Emma does reminds me so much of Wendy? I begin to cry harder. I can hear Emma sobbing. She hugs me tight, trying to comfort me.
“Wendy,” I say. “Wendy. I miss her.”
Emma pats me on the back. “I know, Joshua,” she says. “I know.”
“But she’s gone,” I wail like a child. “She’s gone. She’s gone. And it’s all my fault. Everything that happened is all my fault.”